1st Jan 2003
Karen J Zielinski
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis
FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE a disability and drive, a simple task such as filling a gas tank can be a big hurdle. Disability-rights activists realize that there is an unfulfilled need: People with special physical challenges want better access at the gas pumps. The problem of pump accessibility and car refueling is being studied and something is being done.
The Great Lakes ADA Center-an advocacy group-is examining feasible ways to make a trip to the gas station easier for those individuals with MS and other disabilities. Similar initiatives across the country may one day help to find a solution.
With the proliferation of self-service gas stations, access at the pump is an ongoing concern for drivers with disabilities. Although laws require service stations to provide refueling assistance when needed, the process is often ineffective. It isn't as simple as just hitting the station closest to your home or office. Instead, the question becomes, "Who'll pump my gas?"
According to Kerri McLaughlin, director of marketing and communications at Chicago-- based Inclusion Solutions, "Millions of drivers face this question when they hit the road. At the same time that advances in assistive driving technology are providing people with disabilities unparalleled freedom, they're also being limited by the increase of self-service-- only gas stations."
Although the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires all service stations to make at least "readily achievable" (or affordable) accessibility changes, many service stations haven't taken adequate steps to proactively provide service for customers with disabilities. The ADA also requires all stations to offer refueling assistance at self-service prices. Service should be provided whenever feasible.
The U.S. Department of Justice issued guidelines on assistance at self-service gas stations in compliance with the ADA (see box); however, although the recommendations are good, many gas station attendants are unaware of them. Also, current Department of Justice solutions often fall short. For example, recessed gas pump buttons often can't be reached by drivers with disabilities and are often too small for drivers with limited dexterity. Other solutions, such as "horn-honking" policies, have also been frustrating to drivers with disabilities.
Inclusion Solutions was launched to offer America's business community reasonable solutions for accommodating customers with disabilities. The company's products uniquely balance the realistic limitations faced by business owners with the access needs of those with disabilities.
Inclusion Solutions developed Fuel Call to solve the growing issue of access at the pump. Fuel Call gives service station owners an easy way to increase access for customers with disabilities and to educate attendants on the store's refueling policy. The concept is simple: Let customers know when aid with refueling will be provided and how to communicate their need for assistance.
Fuel Call is based on ADA BigBell, a universally designed wireless alert system that allows customers to request assistance when entering a business. A cost-- effective alternative to power doors, the ADA BigBell will increase access to any storefront. Portable ramps are available for businesses that have an entryway with one to two steps. When mounted at an accessible height on both sides of gas pump islands, ADA BigBell gives drivers with disabilities a direct line of communication with station attendants, signaling them that help is needed for refueling. Fuel Call provides signs that clearly let customers know the specific hours when refueling assistance will be provided. It also provides a training guide, helping employees to understand the refueling policy and how to best serve and interact with their customers with disabilities.
There's hope on the horizon for those who need help at the pump.
© 2002 Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis